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Local historian takes a fresh look at the Campbelltown story

Review: Pictorial History Campbelltown & District. By Jeff McGill. Sydney: Kingsclear Books, 2017. Pp. iv + 139. Illustrations, index, select bibliography, paper. 978-0-99444456-2-9.

Pictorial History Campbelltown and District sets out to break the stereotypes that have plagued Campbelltown for decades. Local author and photographer Jeff McGill illustrates in his new publication how the city is mulit-dimensional and has many facets to its character.

The book is a fresh look at a community through local eyes and shows the community’s vibrancy, enthusiasm and strength. It illustrates how the community has endured many challenges from the dreamtime to the present.

 

Campbelltown Pictorial History McGill 2017 Cover

 

McGill’s use of images peels back the layers of meaning and reveals the heart of the city. Photographs demonstrate the dynamic nature of the community and how it has changed over time.

Historical photographs are a window into the past and provide a form of expression materially different from the written or oral record. Photographs are accessible and immediate to the viewer. They are unfiltered and provide a meaning to the setting of the subject.

Historical photographs show an immense amount of detail and are an archive of meaning about the past. Quite often the viewer feels that they are intruding on a private event or function.

 

Campbelltown Pictorial History[2] McGill Launch 2017
Author Jeff McGill signing copies of his book standing next to the publisher Catherine Warne from Kingsclear Books at the Glenalvon launch of Pictorial History Campbelltown & District on Saturday 9 December 2017 (I Willis)

While photographic images capture a moment in time they also have deeper meanings. Just like the writer the photographer is trying to say something in their formatting, structure and composition of the image.  What is the message that the photographer is trying to the tell the viewer?

Sometimes the photograph poses a host of other questions. Why is the street not paved? Why is the women’s dress that long? Why are people wearing those funny clothes? Why are there cows in the paddock? Why are their no electricity poles?  These are all part of the composition of the photographs in this pictorial history.

 

Campbelltown Pictorial History[2] McGill 2017
Campbelltown Railway Station which opened in 1858. What is little understood is the  importance of the rail link to people living in the Illawarra until the opening of Wollongong Railway Station in 1887. There was a daily coach service running between the station and Wollongong which still persists today. (CAHS)

Jeff McGill provides a  perspective of the lived local experience of Campbelltonian and a journalist’s nose for a good story. McGill has published a number of local histories that show the hand of someone who understands the nuances of small communities.

After growing up in Campbelltown, going to school in the city McGill worked for the large metropolitan dailies. He then returned to Campbelltown so he could write stories about interesting people rather than those based on hard bitten sensationalist attitude to journalism in the big smoke.

It is this attitude that shone when the Macarthur Advertiser, under McGill’s editorship,  took out two national awards for the best local newspaper in Australia. He has been praised for being a passionate Campbelltonian and it shows in  Pictorial History Campbelltown & District.

The images that McGill has chosen for the book show the same characteristics that are part of successful journalism in the provincial press. Each image tells a story about local characters and identities and capture a snapshot of a time long past.  McGill’s deft eye for composition and impact as a photographer is clearly demonstrated in his layout work in the book.

Campbelltown Pictorial History[1] McGill 2017
A procession in Queen Street in 1910 was organised by the local Waratah and Wallaby Football Club.  (CAHS)
The images are drawn from a range of archives – Campbelltown City Library, the Campbelltown & Airds Historical Society, many private collections, individual photographers and the author. Many of these images are not accessible to the general public in any form and this publication breaks ground in this area.  The book is complemented by a select bibliography and index.

Some of the images  show important events which had repercussions on the national stage  like the election of the Whitlam government (p. 123),  and the First (pp. 54-61) and Second World Wars (pp. 81-87).

The Pictorial History Campbelltown & District provides a new perspective on the history of Campbelltown from earlier histories.  Carol Liston’s Campbelltown The Bicentennial History and William A Bayley’s History of Campbelltown New South Wales are narrative histories of the city and surrounding suburbs. Bayley’s history was published at the time of one of the greatest changes in the history of Campbelltown. In 1973 the state government the announcement of The New Cities of Campbelltown Camden Appin Structure Plan and the establishment of the Macarthur Growth Centre. Liston’s history was published during the nationalist frenzy linked to the Australian Bicentenary Celebrations of 1988.

 

Campbelltown Pictorial History[3] McGill Launch 2017
Author and photographer Jeff McGill showing off his latest publication at the Glenalvon launch on Saturday 9 December 2017 (I Willis)

More that just a narrative Pictorial History Campbelltown & District is an entry point to the daily lives of those living in Campbelltown. The images are accompanied by a lively story about the characters and events from Campbelltown’s past.

The city has not always received a good press in the Sydney metropolitan dailies and this publication challenges these stereotypes. This collection of images provides a human side to the local story about real people with real lives who create a vibrant  community.

The Campbelltown community has many community organisations that are the basis of the city’s resilience and one of these is the Campbelltown and Airds Historical Society which contributed a number of images to the book. The society also provided the venue for the book launch in the wonderful atmospherics provided by Campbelltown’s historic house Glenalvon.

 

Campbelltown Pictorial History[1] McGill Launch Hayes 2017
Past president of the Campbelltown & Airds Historical Society introducing proceedings at the Glenalvon launch of Pictorial History Campbelltown & District on Saturday 9 December 2017 (I Willis)

The gathering was introduced by past president Kay Hayes, followed by publisher Catherine Warne from Kingsclear Books. Catherine outlined the history of her firm over  30 years of publishing. She said that Campbelltown pictorial history was one of the last pieces of the jigsaw of the Sydney area for her firm. She had been trying to complete her coverage of the metropolitan area for many years and this book was the first time that she has had an author take over the design work.

 

Campbelltown Pictorial History[1] McGill Launch Warne 2017
Publisher Catherine Warne from Kingsclear Books introducing author Jeff McGill’s Pictorial History Campbelltown & District at the Glenalvon launch on Saturday 9 December 2017 (I Willis)

Jeff McGill then spoke about the gestation of the book, its development and fruition with the support of many people and organisations. Jeff outlined how there were lots of images that were considered for the book and a culling process narrowed down the selection. The chosen were those which told a story or provided the greatest meaning to the Campbelltown story.

McGill made the point that quite a number of the images came from family photograph albums that he had been given access to over many years. This was  the first time that they have been published. Jeff would visit local families be given afternoon tea and he would copy the images from the family album.

 

Campbelltown Pictorial History[1] McGill Launch 2017
Raconteur, author and photographer Jeff McGill on the launch of his Pictorial History Campbelltown & District at Glenalvon on Saturday 9 December 2017 (I Willis)

Jeff McGill’s Pictorial History Campbelltown & District  provides a human side to the local story about real people with real lives who create a vibrant and wonderful community. The city has broken free of many of its stereotypes and ghosts, yet it still continues to face many challenges with a positive outlook to the future.

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Camden · Entertainment · Heritage · Local History · Theatre · Uncategorized

Camden Theatre Group

Camden Theatre Group Programme Quasiville 1960
Camden Theatre Group Programme Quasiville 1960

The Camden Theatre Group was one of a number of community organisations that existed in the Camden area in the post-war period. It mounted a host of productions over 20 years, mostly by non-professional members of the community.

The term community theatre refers to theatrical performance within and by the community. It can fit within the area of community arts which is wide and varied. Sometimes the community group works with professional actors and production teams. Community theatre helps build community development and community participation and engagement, which all contributed to the development of social capital.

Arts historian Katherine Knight reports that other active community theatre groups were the Castle Hill Players (1954) and the Henry Lawson Players (1969), both still active. In the local area the Campbelltown Theatre Group started in 1976 and is still very active.

The Camden Theatre Group was originally formed in Camden in 1953 and was extremely active from the beginning. In its first year the company staged three shows. It launched its first season 1954 with ‘Fresh Fields’, followed later in the year with ‘Gypsy Story’ and ‘Trial By Jury’. This was followed up in 1955 with ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ and ‘Maid of the Mountain’, with the highlight of 1956 ‘The Importance of Being Ernest’ and ‘Our Miss Gibbs’.

One of the early presidents was local novelist and dramatist Charles Inglis.

Productions were held in the AH&I Hall in Central Camden and in 1966 the company mounted Irving Berlin’s famous musical ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ in October. The leading roles for Annie was played by Christine de Looze and Frank Butler by Frank Armstrong. Christine de Looze debuted for the theatre group in ‘The Drunkard’ in 1965, and followed this up in 1966 playing the part of ballet dancer Essie Sycamore in ‘You Can’t Take it with You’. Frank Armstrong was one of the most experienced members of the company and had experience with JC Williamsons for some years appearing in a variety of musicals including ‘Oklahoma’ and ‘Kiss Me Kate’. In 1964 he entertained Camden audiences as Curly in ‘Oklahoma’.

In early 1968 the Camden press reported that Liz Kernohan was elected president at the AGM of the theatre group with co-patrons Dr RM Crookston, W Clifton, EC Britton, B Ferguson and W Sidman. The secretary was M Ferguson and B Clark, with vice-presidents C Manners and C Inglis, supported by general committee of eleven. It was reported that the group looked forward ‘to a full and rewarding programme with increased social activities and many opportunities for people who may be afraid of the footlights’.

Joyce Thorn recalled that Liz Kernohan was Bloody Mary in the company’s 1962 musical ‘South Pacific’ and says that she was ‘really spot on and the best Bloody Mary I’ve ever seen’. Joyce remembers that ‘she had confidence that she could do it’. Joyce and two car loads of friends would regularly come into Camden for theatre group productions and felt that the ‘theatre group did quite well’.

In 1969 the committee under the direction of president Liz Kernohan stated the theatre group enjoyed bringing forward their production and appealed for audience support by telling their friends. Local supporters could become an associate member for one dollar that entitled the holder to preferential bookings and inclusion in theatre parties. Productions were moved to the Camden High School hall in John Street, Camden.

The company kept up a busy production schedule from its foundation and between 1953 and 1971 there were 29 separate productions, and from 1972 and to 1981 there were 21.

In early 1974 the Stables Theatre Group got under way when the Camden Theatre Group signed an eight year lease on The Stables at Camden Park Estate. The signatories were the president Liz Kernohan, secretary Richard Echin and Quentin Macarthur Stanham of Camden Park.

In 1975 the theatre group was re-structured as the Camden Theatre Group Co-operative Society Ltd. The aim of the re-structuring was the establishment of the Stables Theatre under the chairmanship of Camden Mayor Bruce Ferguson. The co-ordinator of the Stables Theatre Group was Jean Burton, and secretary Janice McDonnell. The co-operative’s board was made up of 14 representatives made up of eight directors from shareholders and six representatives from the organisations. Amongst board members were representatives from a number of community groups which were the Arts Society, Chamber of Commerce and Macarthur Apex. The chairman of the board was F Hibble from Tahmoor.

In 1980 the theatre group was suffering financial difficulties and had revival plans in place. The restoration of The Stables had put the company under financial pressure.

The last production mounted by the theatre group at The Stables was the three act ‘Summer of the Seventeenth Doll’ was put on in 1981 in the round. Diana Sharpe played Burra, Sally Hogan took the role of Pearl, Jeff Ballinger played Barney, ably supported by a number of other local identities.

Joyce Thorn, Interview with Ian Willis, Camden, 7 September 2014

Read more about community theatre at The Association of Community Theatre here

Read about Arts activism in Western Sydney with Katherine Knight @ Western Sydney Frontier and her excellent history of the Arts in Western Sydney Passion Purpose Meaning, Arts Activism in Western Sydney (2007)